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Mo. auditor questions welfare expenses

Mo. auditor questions welfare expenses

March 19th, 2013 in News

State Auditor Tom Schweich said Tuesday Missouri's Social Services department - especially the Family Services division -- still hasn't made some accounting changes recommended in several previous audits.

Schweich's findings were part of a 166-page report called the "Single Audit" of $9.95 billion in federal funds used by the state.

The new report includes findings that the Human Development Corporation (HDC) of Metropolitan St. Louis misused another $1,800 in Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds, instead of paying a supplier - after a previous report cited at least $669,704 in misused funds.

And the close-out review of the LIHEAP money spotlighted more than $660,000 in Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) program funds were paid to the HDC, but it didn't have supporting documentation to show it had used the money correctly.

The audit said the Social Services department agreed with the finding, and has filed a claim in the HDC "dissolution proceedings" to recoup the LIHEAP and CSBG funds.

Schweich's audit also found a couple of problems with administration of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program.

"It's a massive program, and they're never going to have perfection in a program like that," Schweich told the News Tribune. "But, I think, when you have 42 percent of the files not documenting whether the person is trying to get work, or attending vocational training program or whatever - that's way too high of a number."

The federal government mandated, in a 1996 law, the yearly audit of how state and local governments, and not-for-profit organizations, spend the federal money they receive.

"It's the single biggest audit that comes out of this office, every year. We spent 22,000 hours on this audit, 46 auditors - 18 percent of our total activity is on this one audit," Schweich said.

Missouri's state budget was around $23 billion last year, the auditor noted, and $12.73 billion of that was based on federal awards.

Schweich said this year's audit covered $9.95 billion of the total, or 78 percent.

"It also encompasses 22 programs in 11 different departments," Schweich explained. "It's really more like 22 audits than one audit."

And the auditors don't find only "bad news."

"You don't see it in the report, because we don't put in where we don't find any problems," Schweich said. "But I have a "No Findings' list - Higher Education, Mental Health, Natural Resources, Public Safety and Agriculture."

That list varies from year to year, he said.

"Obviously, somebody like Social Services, with the amount of money they get - you don't expect them to be on the No Findings list," he said. "We're not interested in embarrassing anybody - we just want the problems fixed.

"We want to make sure that eligible people are getting welfare benefits - because when ineligible people get them, that means there's no money for eligible people."

Although Schweich is unhappy that past findings haven't been cleared up, he added: "One of our most serious findings is that the department of Social Services paid $300,000 to child care providers for children who no longer were in the program."

The department agreed with that finding, and said in its response it has a plan "to address the findings."

Schweich hopes state program administrators take the Single Audit report seriously.

"We issue these reports and they are read," he said, "and if (federal administrators) agree with us, they're going to try to get the money back."

Posted earlier:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich (schwyk) is questioning millions of dollars of welfare payments made to low-income residents.

Schweich released an annual audit Tuesday examining Missouri's use of $12.7 billion of federal funds during the 2012 budget. He raised concerns about $68 million of expenses, mainly through programs run by the Department of Social Services.

As he has in the past, Schweich questioned whether some of Missouri's payments under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program were allowed under federal law. The department has said that they are.

Among other things, the audit also cited improper payments to some child care providers and noted that the state failed to perform annual eligibility verifications for some senior and elderly residents receiving home-based services.